Tips for Successful Parent-Teacher Conferences at Your Child’s School

Today, schools and teachers want to form positive, proactive connections so that your child can be as successful as possible.

As a parenting coach and former teacher, I know that parent/teacher conferences can strike anxiety into the heart of a parent. For this very reason, I used to make phone calls to parents just to tell them how well their child was doing in my class. When the parent answered and heard it was little Johnny’s English teacher, their first reaction was always apprehension. I could almost hear them thinking, “what has little Johnny done now?” 

Parent/Teacher Conferences are a normal part of the beginning of school. Today, schools and teachers want to form positive, proactive connections so that your child can be as successful as possible. In addition, the more you know about your children’s school and classes, the more opportunities you will have to connect with them. They will appreciate your interest and will be more likely to open up without you having to initiate the “what did you do at school today” conversation.

Student-Led Conferences

Many schools may kick off the year with a new trend in conferences where students take the lead. Student-led conferences allow teachers to get to know the student on a personal level, hear their point of view and learn more about their understanding of the materials that have been presented. Sometimes a grade is not a true reflection of what the child is actually learning. Teachers can also witness how parents and children interact and know exactly what information is being relayed. Most schools use both student-led and traditional conferences so that parents can also spend valuable one on one time with the teacher and speak candidly about the student’s progress. Your student should be given guidance how to prepare for the conference so that you can just go along for the ride.

Traditional Conferences

If your school year starts with a traditional conference, here are some check lists that can help you know what to do before, during and after.

Before the Conference

  • Ask your child how she feels about school and if she has any concerns. Reassure your child that the meeting is a positive and not a negative. Ask your child if there is anything specific she wants you to talk about with ther teacher. Prioritize the topics that are most important to you.
  • Start and end the meeting on time. Respect the teacher’s time and try not to bring younger siblings or allow other distractions.
  • Be prepared to take notes so you can share the highlights with your child. 
  • If English is your second language, you have a right to a translator, or you may bring a friend along to translate. It is important that your child does not translate for you.

During the Conference

It is always best to begin the conference by talking about the positives. Emphasize what your student likes about the teacher or the class. Talk about what motivates your child, his likes and dislikes. It’s also helpful to share any major changes in the home like a new baby, divorce, new house, death in the family, special medications, or learning needs. 

Your Child’s Temperament

It is also helpful to know your child’s temperament. In my new book, Your Child’s Inner Drive: Parenting by Personality from Toddlers to Teens, I included In the Classroom sections so parents can pass their child’s temperament information along to the teacher. Some personality types are rare causing them to be misunderstood. Teachers with the best intentions may frame your child’s behavior as negative because they simply don’t understand how your child is wired. If your children have a difficult time advocating for themselves, alerting the teacher heightens their awareness so they will notice if your children are alone at recess, last in the lunch line or non-participatory in class. Some intuitive children may seem like they aren’t paying attention or have difficulty finding objects that are in plain sight.

Parent Teacher Conference Checklist   

Here are some considerations partially adapted from The National PTA and the National Education Association.

1. How are grades determined? How much weight are placed on tests, projects, homework etc. What types of tests and evaluations will my child have to take this year? These questions are great to ask the teacher, but with your child there should be more emphasis placed on their effort than on grades alone!

2.What is the best way to get in touch with the teacher? Does he or she prefer emails, phone calls or written notes? 

3.Ask how you can know on a daily basis what homework has been assigned. Are students responsible for writing it down somewhere, or does the teacher keep a record of it online? Also, how long should homework typically take each night?

5.Be sure to ask clarification questions. If teachers are using jargon like, “We use everyday math” most people think of the adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing done while figuring out the bill at a restaurant or grocery store, not a mathematics curriculum developed by the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project.

6.Let the teacher teach. If you have an idea about how to solve a problem, try asking the teacher for input before stating what you think should be done. Teachers are not the enemy. If you have a problem, there is no need to go on the attack. They care about your child and want to help resolve the issue.

4.Mutually create an action plan for helping your child succeed at school and at home. You and your teacher are in this together, so ask what you can do to assist. In addition to working with your child, there may be supplies needed, prep work that can be done at home, or help needed in the classroom. Once again, your child’s temperament plays a huge role in how any action plan should be designed. If your child is an introvert, he may need a quiet place for doing homework and ways to get away from the chaos of the classroom when performing a challenging task.

  1. Ask your child’s teacher for specific suggestions of ways that you can help at home with homework, reading, organization, routines, behavioral issues, etc. This list of suggestions will become the action plan. 
  2. Establish a way to keep track of the child’s progress. Review the action plan with the teacher as you end the conference to make sure that you both have the same expectations.
  3. Part of this action plan could be sitting down with your student to create a goal for the semester such as having no missing assignments or reading for a half an hour each night. It always helps to work on a goal together, so let your child know the types of things you would like to improve upon as well. 

After the conference

  • Talk about the conference with your child.
  • Emphasize the positive points but be direct about problems.
  • Go over any action plans that were created.
  • Keep in touch with the teacher during the school year.
  • Keep the lines of communication open with your children without nagging them! Stay positive and focus on the things they are doing well or improving upon.

For more detailed temperament considerations to use during conferences, go to www.WendyGossett.com and look under “Resources”.

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